Howard Epstein: the man who wasn't added to the NDP cabinet

The most intriguing aspect of last week’s provincial cabinet shuffle was not the Cheshire-cat-like, photo-op grins on the faces of the two newly blessed members of Darrell Dexter’s inner circle.


Or the nameplate-shuffling and amoeba-like subdividing of ministerial responsibilities the government predictably insisted will help it do its job even better and eventually save taxpayers money it is about to spend to add new ministers and their staffs to the public payroll.

Or even the equally predictable bleating from the opposition that now is no time to add to the cost of government, even though they will almost certainly do the same if they some how, some way, some day get the chance.

No, the most intriguing aspect of last week’s shuffle was the name that went unmentioned: Howard Epstein.

Intriguing. Disappointing. But hardly surprising.

Epstein, a lawyer, veteran MLA and former Halifax city councilor, remains one of his party’s best, brightest and worst used backbenchers.

He’s a former head of the Ecology Action Centre, an acknowledged expert on matters environmental. Given the Dexter government isn’t winning awards for environmental stewardship—can you say mercury emissions?—appointing Epstein would signal the party is serious about sustainability and help woo Green-leaning voters.

But Epstein—a finance critic during the NDP’s opposition-wandering years and a wise-in-the-ways provincial-municipal affairs expert—would have been a good fit in other portfolios too.

Why is he still on the outside?

There are obvious answers, of course.

Epstein is ideologically to the left of many of his colleagues, not to forget an independent thinker who speaks his mind and a smart guy who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

For much of his time in opposition and during Dexter’s first year in office, Epstein played—in public at least—the ideal team player.

When he finally went off the reservation this summer—publicly opposing plans for a convention centre—it seemed an acknowledgement he would never inside.

Ultimately, that may not be a bad thing.

Given its own tendencies and the rightward lurch of both opposition parties, Dexter’s government could use an articulate critic from the left.

Epstein is certainly that. So his absence is a disappointment. But not completely.

  1. It’s funny that I read this sort of thing, this lament about Howard Epstein not being in cabinet. As someone who follows NS politics pretty closely (and probably not nearly as closely as Mr. Kimber does) from all the things I’ve heard about Howard Epstein, he’s his own worst enemy.

    He’s a good constituency man, but hellish to work with. He’s well-regarded, but not well-liked within the party. His arrogance reportedly matches his intellect and he tends to disregard those who don’t share his opinion (hence the “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” remark). Also, the premier doesn’t care much for him as Epstein famously (or infamously) insulted him when Dexter first came to the Legislature as being part of a group of new MLAs that Epstein publicly dismissed as not remarkable. He often publicly disagrees with his party and picks controversial opportunities to do so, like his close association with the Heritage Trust.

    As the previous commenter stated, with such a deep pool of talent in the NDP caucus, why would the party reward such an obvious malcontent with a plum cabinet post? Epstein probably would go to another party if he had a choice but he doesn’t so he stays.


  2. A few curious things in this column. Kimber says the NDP aren’t winning environment awards, but actually, the environment is one area where they are particularly strong, with placing a moratorium on oil and gas exploration on George’s Bank, a hard cap on GHG emissions, a ban on uranium mining, and a ban on cosmetic pesticides. And of course, they won an award for it, from the Sierra Club.

    Secondly, there’s lots of talent in the NDP. Everyone deserves a chance in Cabinet, including Howard, but not exclusive to Howard. Leonard Preyra is excellent, Pam Birdsall down in Lunenburg would be a fantastic addition, Colchester – Cumberland could use more representation, Maurice Smith from Antigonish is a long-time legal aid lawyer who would be excellent in any number of portfolios. Howard deserves a shot – so does everyone else. It’s great the NDP has such a deep talent pool.


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